There was no basement and there wasn't an upstairs. There was no escaping all those people in that small house except to go outside which is where we kids spent most of our time. Even in the frigid winter temps of Chicago, we would go to the outdoor ice rink six blocks away. There were two rinks that the fire department would flood in the park every season - one for the hockey players and the other for the recreational skaters. We would come home from school, get something to eat, change into our layers, grab our skates and head to the ice rink. We would usually skate until dark, and with frozen feet stuffed into our boots, take shuffling, painful steps all the way home and devour dinner. This was our routine nearly every day in the winter.
The boys often stayed later than us. With all their gear on and working up a sweat playing hockey, the cold didn't bother them as much as it did my sister and me. As was typical of that time, kids wandering home in the dark by themselves didn't seem to cause any alarm. Not for my sister and I and our friends whose ice cubed feet couldn't run from a kidnapper if we tried, not the boys who felt no inclination to leave their game early to protect us from the Boogie Man lurking about, or our mother who loved nothing more than to make dinner in peace and quiet and have it ready by the time we walked in the door.
One year during an unseasonably warm stretch of winter weather with heavy downpours, our backyard along with all of our surrounding neighbors, flooded. This caused Dad all kinds of worry, mostly because he foresaw a mud pit come spring instead of a sprouting green lawn. But as the luck of the Chicago Irish would have it, the temps plunged and our flooded backyard became a sheet of ice.
A sheet of skating ice.
Now instead of trekking back and forth to the park with our skates in tow, we need only walk out the back door to the most glorious thing that could have ever happened to us - our very own ice rink. Dad didn't seem to be a fan of this skating rink that Mother Nature had created, and, Mom, well Mom wanted her brood outside, and even if it wasn't as far away as she would have liked at least it was guaranteed to wear us out.
The boys rigged up some hockey nets and did their usual reenactments of a Black Hawks game. My sister and I swirled around the brick bird bath, the swing set and every tree in the yard. It wasn't the best rink we'd ever skated on - you had to watch for frozen sticks jutting out and uneven ice - but it sure beat hobbling six blocks home in the dark.
One afternoon my sister and I were in the backyard skating by ourselves as the sun was setting when some kid showed up and started skating on our rink. My sister told him to get lost. He told her to get lost. This went back and forth for a few minutes until he said, "I don't have to you little bitch," and picked up a stick and threw it at her. It hit her in face and cut her cheekbone. She started wailing, the kid took off like a speed skater in the Olympics, and I went running into the house, skates and all, to report the crime to my mom.
"Who was it???" she yelled. "Who did this to her???!!"
I had no idea. I'd never seen the kid before. All I knew was that my sister was bleeding and had just been called a bitch. Whatever that was....
My brother, Tom, laced up his hockey skates and went flying down the icy backyards, chasing the perp through the frozen tundra until he ran out of icy yards to skate through. Out in the dark it seemed like he was gone forever and we started to worry that this hooligan, intruding skater had done something to him too. When he finally returned he did a sharp hockey stop causing ice to spray up from his skates.
"Did you get him, Tom? Did you beat him up, Tom, and make him pay for what he did to Jean?"
"I took care of it," was all he said and I didn't see much cause to worry about a Boogie Man after that.